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  • Worcester Art Museum Surveys French and American Landscapes

    (WORCESTER, Mass. Aug. 15, 2003) - Forty-two lush landscape paintings from the Worcester Art Museum's collection comprise a major exhibition tracing the changing traditions of Barbizon and Impressionist movements as their popularity rose in France and influenced the art of America.

    Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings, on view at the Museum from Oct. 5, 2003 through June 27, 2004, features landscape paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, George Inness, Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Alfred Sisley and many others. It explores the artists' changing attitudes about nature and explains the indelible connection New Englanders have had with this style of art.

    Paths to Impressionism is guest-curated by Dr. Elizabeth Johns, renowned American art scholar, professor, and fellow at the College of the Holy Cross.

    “I was pleased to find in the Worcester Art Museum's collection some of the best examples by leading masters of the Barbizon and Impressionist movements,” said Johns. “In addition, many of the paintings are housed in their original frames, hand-made by the leading frame-makers of the time, including handsome examples from the Boston School of Frame-Makers.”

    Paths to Impressionism is the first exhibition to combine the Museum's French and American collections. Several of the works have been off view for generations, and some are being shown here for the first time. Many paintings and their frames required extensive conservation treatment, and in preparation for the exhibition, the Museum's conservators repaired frames and canvases, cleaned paintings, and removed discolored varnish.

    “The exhibition is particularly exciting for the attention it gives to the Museum's holdings of Barbizon paintings, which in recent years has not received the attention of the Impressionist pictures,” said Museum Director James A. Welu.

    Inspired by the undisturbed forests of Fontainebleau and the bucolic village of Barbizon, French painters in the mid-19th century romanticized the rural landscape with images that appealed to emotions. New revelations in the natural sciences prompted artists to ponder man's role in nature as well as the ramifications of urbanization and deforestation. Adopting a new philosophy that man cannot be separated from nature, Barbizon artists created works that drew the viewer into the scene, not as bystander but as active participant. Following French Barbizon painters, American artists began to paint landscapes, including many New England scenes, that depicted changing seasons and transient skies, capturing the light, mood and mystery of nature.

    At the turn of the last century, the Impressionists, consumed by modern life, looked for nature in everyday scenes in cities, markets, harbors and parks. Focused on the quality of light, they worked with a light-colored palette invigorated with synthetic tones and used short thick brushstrokes of pure color. Taking the lead from the French, a new generation of American Impressionists, many of them New Englanders, emerged and banded together in colonies along the Atlantic coast.

    “Artists, collectors and critics discovered that French styles were the perfect tools for representing what was unique to New England-her seasons,” said Johns.

    New England residents, while their own forests were cleared for pasture and their farmland depleted of nutrients, shared the artists' connection to nature and treasured their landscape paintings. Through early Museum purchases and the gifts of local collectors, the Worcester Art Museum quickly amassed an impressive collection of Barbizon and Impressionist works. In 1905, the Museum acquired its first landscape paintings: Barbizon works by Americans George Inness and John Joseph Enneking and by Frenchman Louis Eugéne Boudin. In 1908, Philip T. Gentner, the Museum's first director, returned from Paris with four paintings by Monet. The Museum purchased two, positioning it as one of the first museums in the nation to collect works by Monet.

    A number of special events are planned for the exhibition, beginning with an opening celebration from 8 to 11 p.m. on Oct. 4. A lecture series features a slide talk by guest curator Dr. Elizabeth Johns on Oct. 19. Family Day, on Nov. 2, invites visitors of all ages to embark on a Grand Art Tour throughout the Museum. A concert inspired by French and American landscapes will be held on Nov. 16.

    A paperback catalogue of the exhibition, authored by guest curator Dr. Elizabeth Johns and with an introduction by Museum Director James A. Welu, is available at the Museum Shop.

    Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings from the Worcester Art Museum will travel nationally. Confirmed tour dates are: Oct. 30, 2004-January 2005 at the Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Penn.; and Feb. 23-June 11, 2006 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tenn. Two additional sites are to be announced.

    Generous support for this exhibition is provided by The Florence Gould Foundation and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

    Paths to Impressionism is presented in partnership with No Limits to Discovery, a series of cultural events offered throughout Worcester from Sept. 21-Dec. 31, 2003.

    About the Worcester Art Museum

    The Worcester Art Museum, which opened to the public in 1898, is world-renowned for its 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints, drawings and new media. The works span 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from ancient Roman mosaics to Japanese prints, Colonial silver, Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Dedicated to the promotion of art and art education, the Museum offers a year-round studio art and art appreciation program that enrolls over 6,000 adult and youth students each year.

    Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon. The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Free parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.